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Pass or Run: An Empirical Test of the Matching Pennies Game Using Data from the National Football League

  • Joseph P. McGarrity


    (Economics Department, 304 BBA, UCA, Conway, AR 72035, USA)

  • Brian Linnen


    (Werner Enterprises, 14507 Frontier Road, Omaha, NE 68138, USA)

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    This article examines play calling in the National Football League (NFL). It finds that a mixed strategy equilibrium game explains NFL play calling better than standard optimization techniques. When a quarterback is injured and replaced with a less capable backup, standard optimization theory suggests that the offense will run more often, passing less. Our game theoretic model predicts that the offense will not change its play calling because the defense will play against the run more often. Using every first half play from the 11 teams that had a starting quarterback miss action because of injury in the 2006 season, we find that the injury did not alter the likelihood that the offense would pass. We also find that coaches randomly mix passing and running plays, as the mixed strategy games predict.

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    Article provided by Southern Economic Association in its journal Southern Economic Journal.

    Volume (Year): 76 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 3 (January)
    Pages: 791-810

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    Handle: RePEc:sej:ancoec:v:76:3:y:2010:p:791-810
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